Sunday, November 4, 2007

First Post: Royal Redwood Ranch friends and alums!

Welcome! I'm a former camper at Joe and Claudia Ayres' Royal Redwood Ranch riding camp in Comptche, California, which ran for three decades and finally closed in 2000. I don't ride much anymore, and last attended camp there in the late 70s, but now that my 45 year old self has a 12 year old horse-crazy daughter, I'm really sorry that the Ranch has closed, and am recalling many fond memories of the Ranch, the skittish yearlings visiting us in the wee hours, scrambling through the slippery, dark woods in the rain to ride the pickup down to the barn, the smell of the oats we fed our horses as we groomed them before breakfast, flaking out hay for the horses waiting outside the Salt Corral, and many other great things.

I googled the ranch today, and found a website that thought it was still active and had a phone number. I called, and Joe answered! We talked for half an hour, and caught up on a lot. I'd be happy to share more if anyone ever does what I did (googling their names etc.) and finds this blog.

So, I'm starting this blog and launching it into the blogosphere, sort of like the Voyager spacecraft, figuring that in some future year someone else will stumble across it, and initiate contact...

Scott Bellows
Portland, OR
formerly of Piedmont, CA


Annabel Lee said...

Hi Scott,
I was glad to find your blog. I went to Royal Redwood Ranch in the late 60s for the first few years of Joe and Claudia's camp. I met them both when they were camp counselors at Shady Lawn Farm (run by Joe's aunt) and followed them to the ranch when they embarked on their own. I was there for summer camp, easter camp, and occasional weekends when I was in high school. It was an extraordinary experience: to see a horseranch (and, coincidentally, a marriage) built from the ground up.

I don't ride anymore (something about being galloped through the apple orchard dampened my enthusiasm), but I do apply the lessons I learned on horse confirmation to my cats and all four-legged creatures who thud the ground when they should glide.

Please tell me what Joe, Claudia and their offspring are up to. And why did they close the camp when they did? They are not THAT old--I know this because Joe is only eight years older than I am, and I am still, in my mind's eye, twenty-eight years old.

Didi Kaspin
Pawtucket, RI
formerly of Richmond, CA

Anonymous said...

Hi, Didi! I'm glad you found this! It's neat to hear from someone who knew the Ayres and the ranch at the beginning, and I really love your comment about seeing both a horseranch and a marriage built.

You asked about the kids. When we talked a week or two ago, Joe told me that their fourth child, Jared, who I believe has Down syndrome, is living in Ft. Bragg; Joe bought a lot there, put a modular home on it, and set up an assisted living arrangement for him, and Joe sees him weekly.

When I first talked with Joe I didn't learn much about their first three kids, other than that Joey, Dariel and Cim had "moved on," so I just called him again to get more details.

After leaving home, Joey lived in Ft. Bragg for while, working in a big video store there (and, says Joe, becoming "one of the best known people in town"). He then went to Arizona for graphic arts school, and now is in Chico working for Videomaker Magazine, helping them convert from paper to online distribution.

Dariel graduated from San Jose State with a degree or credential in education. She's living in Soquel, near Santa Cruz, married to a former financial whiz who, despite material success, saw how unhappy his older coworkers were, decided he didn't want to share their fate, and became a special ed teacher (and special ed administrator, and football coach, which Joe says is his real passion). Dariel also worked as a special ed teacher, then when they had their daughter (Joe and Claudia's only grandchild, turns 5 in March), she stopped teaching in public school and began helping write IEPs (education plans) for parents who are homeschooling special ed kids.

Cimarron graduated from S.F. State with a degree in drama, then went backpacking/hostelling through Europe for a year. He worked with Joe for the last six years of camp, and now works for the same assisted living services that have served Jared, supplemented with work as a videographer and a passion for filmmaking that he hopes he can make his vocation.

About the ranch: they sold the horses in 2000. At that point he had been running the ranch for 33 years, and teaching riding longer than that, so I can't blame him, even though I'm sorry my horse-crazy 12 year old won't get the chance to share the experience.

The sad news -- and the reason Cim helped run the camp for the last few years, and I think the reason they closed the ranch -- is that Claudia is suffering from multiinfarct dementia, or dementia caused by small strokes or clots. Apparently she slowly declined over several years, helping with the ranch as well as she could, but it's progressed quite far now. Joe said she's physically healthy, generally in good spirits, dresses herself, etc.; he washes the dishes and she dries; but her short-term memory is largely gone, and Joe's job now is to be her caregiver. Of course, he put the best possible spin on it, but it must be hard.

A bit of brightness he shared is that, despite her memory loss, Claudia still introduces herself to new people by announcing, "I'm Claudia Ayres! I'm married to Joe Ayres, and we run Royal Redwood Ranch riding camp for teens!" So she still identifies with the role that we all remember and loved her in!

(By the way, I was reluctant to post this about Claudia, especially online, but Joe said he was OK with me doing so.)

Didi, when I called Joe today I read your comment to him, and he laughed long and happily and remembered you well! Both he and I want to know more about you being galloped through the apple orchard -- he asked whether it was on the buckskin you sometimes boarded at the Ranch, and whether it was their apple orchard or another one, and he also said to tell you you're not forgotten!

Finally, for you and any other former campers, Joe said he'd love to get phone calls or letters. Their address is: RRR, P.O. Box 112, Comptche CA 95427. If you email me (scott --at --, I'll be glad to give you their phone number as well.

Gosh, I'm glad I put up this blog -- it not only introduced me to another friend, but was a good excuse to call Joe again.


MR said...


Thanks for doing this! Would be fun to start getting RRR campers back together. I thought about doing it via Facebook - maybe I still will. :)

I was a camper for a couple years around 1991-1992 or so (maybe a bit earlier - can't remember!). Loved it there and still have fond, fond memories. I still ride regularly and have a horse of my own these days.

One of my friends now is also an RRR alum. However, we didn't know each other there. Only discovered it when we were talking while out on a trail ride recently - and then noticed we both bridle in a very "distinct" RRR way. :) We've even gotten together to view home videos from the Ranch.

It's so great to here about Joe & Claudia and their family. Thank you for taking the time and energy to do so.

- Megan Robinson (now Gage)
Campbell, CA (near San Jose)

P.S. My favorite horses were Maggie and Amigo!

Sabina Cazadd said...

OMG! How wonderful to connect with other RR campers! I attended camp for three years in the later 80's. I still get filled up with emotions thinking about those early mornings driving out onto the property with Joe to call in the horses...finding my first pair of antlers...playing red rover bareback. Gosh Royal Redwood was a life changing experience in all the best of ways! The last year I went I broke both my nose(on Misty) and collarbone (on Docey)!!! I have so many great stories, memories and feelings about camp....I could go on forever. I am certain that spending time with Joe, Cim and Claudia are the reasons why I became a teacher, activist and free thinker. I would love to chat with them again.

Stephanie (Whitney) Cook aka cookie aka stevie

PS..I returned to riding in 2003 and bought a horse two years ago. He is a 14'2 hand Irish Connemera Sport Horse. I am riding and showing jumpers again... just like I was as a teenager.

othing can fill me up with like calling

Carolyn Wiczynski said...

I am also so glad that I found this blog. Since I am an adult now (I attended camp for regrettably only 2 years in '81 and '82) I have searched for a ranch vacation for adults but found nothing that could compare. My favorite horse was Sutter Bar, he did buck me off and I went home with a torn tendon on crutches but couldn't wait to go back the following year. I cherish my pictures of the ranch. I would love to see it again and I plan on writing Joe and Claudia. Thanks for posting the address.
Does anyone else remember playing tag on horseback in the meadow on the ponies before lunch? Totally unsupervised! Where can you find that in the world anymore?? We got bucked off Comanche, Sugar 'n Spice, and Rusty all the time. Java their stud. Got bit by him feeding apples once. Or Rocky the cat with the folded over ear (I remember feeling honored when he spent one night sleeping on top of my sleeping bag) and Sancha who would jump out of the back of a moving pick-up at round-up at 25 mph.
Joe was fantastic on how he would wake us up whistling. Wish I could get an alarm like that.
How about the fog in the valleys walking down to the coral in the morning?
I feel so warmed by the fact that other people appreciated the "unstructuredness" of the camp. I am CONFIDENT that nothing as good is in existence.

Carolyn Wiczynski
San Diego, CA

Julie Alpert Wood said...

Hi Scott,

What a wonderful "find" to see your blog on RRR. I was searching for riding camps for my 11-year old son and wondered if RRR were still in operation. I am sorry it isn't because Koby would have loved a summer there.

I was a camper for a couple summers and also stayed there for a couple months after high school to work. I don't think in all my camping life or in the camping life of my kids that I've ever seen a better place to learn, grow, and love horses and nature. And Joe was the inspiration behind all that with his cowboy soul and his passion for Bartok.

We are living in Cuernavaca, Mexico, this year and my sons have gotten their first taste of horse back riding here. Koby loves to work at the stables as a caballerango (stable hand) and it reminds me of RRR here. There's a horse here that's just like Foxfire.

Well, thanks for jogging my memory!

Saludos (all best),
Julie Alpert Wood

Julie Alpert Wood said...

Hi Scott,

I wrote a little while back... is this site still active?


appygaltb said...

Oh the wonderful RRR memories! There actually is a facebook group set up already, and we'd love to have all alums join!

I attended camp for 3 years in the early 90's, and was actually camp helper the last year camp was open in 2000.

What amazing times were shared at that ranch, in such a perfect setting. Memories that will never be forgotten.

Sara said...

Hi Scott,

Thank you, thank you for the update and the blog! (I'm assuming it's still "live" even though it's a couple of years old.)

I went to RRR in the mid-80s and like other commenters, it was a life-changing experience. I can't really even put into words what a formative effect Joe (and Claudia) had on my life. It's bittersweet to hear the update about Claudia, and I'm extremely glad to hear that Joe is caring for her (I'm not in the least surprised). Wonderful that Jared is living so independently -- I remember a very pregnant Claudia teaching in the big ring one summer, and then a rolypoly and smiley baby in the years after that. I will write a long letter to Joe (I'd particularly love to be back in touch with Cim, and it's wonderful to hear how well Joey and Darielle are doing).

I'm awash in nostalgia now -- this is just so great to find this information, thank you again. Sleeping under the redwoods on the Knoll, watching the fog roll in below the ridge line, and the horses -- oh my. So many wonderful horses: Sutter Bar and Arkroyal (Arkie!), Javanese and Tumbler and Val, so many others... I remember being so hungry for breakfast after feeding and grooming the horses for the lesson, and sitting around the campfire singing after dinner. I remember building a cross country jump course one summer and pacing off an in-and-out with Cim, and playing in the hay in the barn. I remember hot, hot days and delicious chilly nights in my sleeping bag. I remember Joe singing us to sleep every night and singing us awake every morning. I sing to my 11-month-old baby boy in the mornings, and everytime I sing "Oh what a beautiful morning" it's a marvelous flashback to Joe's voice in the woods.

So, really, thank you, thank you, thank you!

Sara Bixler
Petaluma, CA
RRR camper 1983-1988

Pamela said...

Hi Scott,

What a dream to find others that went to RRR! I just had a dream about Joe and Claudia last night. The alumni page is up in FB, thanks to Renee.
I went to RRR in 1979, '80 and '81. Loved Wrangler, Penny Royal and Rocky Bar. What a great experience!
Thank you so much for this!

Carissa said...


I was glad to find this blog. I attended RRR during its final years. From 1994 or 1995 through to at least 1997. I have many fond memories of RRR, I actually dreamt that I was back there last night, which is why I went searching for it on the internet.

I remember waking up to Joe singing us awake, throwing on some clothes and running down through the morning fog to the awaiting truck and gathering the horses. Having homecooked meals in the outdoor kitchen. Jumping into the pool after the morning ride. The daily chores. Receiving letters from my parents. The pony express relay race. Capture the flag in the log arena and singing around the campfire.

I remember the all day trail ride. One year, on our way back, a tree fell and spooked all the horeses. My horse, Mark, ran as fast as he could off the trail, trying to get back home, with me on his back getting pulled through all sorts of brush. When I finally managed to jump off of him, I was relieved to find I was still in tact, though very shaken. Mark ran off back home without me. When I found the rest of the group, I was not the only one who had lost their horse, nor was I the only one with scratches and torn clothing. We all hiked back to camp and there they were, all of the horses that ran off, saddles askew and reins dragging, perfectly calm, as if nothing had happened. I was so shaken afterwards that I became very afraid of trailrides. I remember I feigned illness to try and get out of them. And Joe would try to comfort me, but he definitely pushed me and challenged me, and finally after numerous proddings, he got me back on the horse, and back on the trail, which I am eternally gratefull for.

I often think back to my time at RRR, and I know for a fact that I would not be the person I am today without the amazing experiences I had there. RRR will always hold a special place in my heart.

I know this is a year later than the last posting. But if you are still in touch with Joe and Claudia, please let them know that I wish them well and that they are constantly in my thoughts.

Seattle, WA
formerly of San Francisco CA

Kallie Teufel said...

Wow, glad I found this!

I attended RRR from age 10 until I was too old to be a camper anymore--16, I think. The last year I attended was in 1999. I'm 26 now. I usually went two or three weeks each summer, and I used to count down the days to camp!

Many, many fond memories and I still think that I learned more in one week there than I did after two years of weekly lessons. I still ride, own a Paso Fino mare, but obviously don't do much jumping on that horse. I miss jumping!

Always loved playing Pony Express on the Friday afternoon before the last day of camp. You could go "any gait" on the last section of each leg of course, and so I always took that chance to sprint at a full gallop! My team usually won :)

Some of my favorite horses there over the years I attended:
Apollo, Sparky, Slicker, Bandito, Maggie, Espirit, Cameo, Peaches, Oreo Star, Banjo, Peso, Kate...

What other horses can I remember? Chelsea, Lighty Breeze, Mark, Tosh, Moondance, Amador, Amigo, Pilot, Blue, Buddy the pony, Marietta, Sonora, Dixie, Ginger (?)

Cim was also a great instructor, I enjoyed having him teach the last few years.

Anonymous said...

So great to find this blog! I'm with Sabine-- RRR and the Ayres altered the course of my life. I think I gained respect and understanding for horses, people, and the earth that I might not otherwise have found. I remember the songs Joe sang to us (I still sing some!), remember sleeping out in the redwoods, the kitchen, tacking up in that grove of redwoods, trail rides, swimming holes, watching the horses run through the meadows as the dog helped round them up, the smell of the barn, the beautiful spots far off in the meadows that taught me how beautiful this earth is.

I attended camp in the mid-eighties, and returned as a helper in the late eighties- early nineties. I always hoped my kids would attend camp, but I was so happy to read that the ranch will be preserved in a conservation easement forever. Sigh....

Liz P., Colorado

MR said...

Everyone! Another RRR alumni recently started a RRR Fan Page on Facebook - search for "Royal Redwood Ranch Alumni" in the Facebook groups.

M.S. Bellows, Jr. said...

To anyone who has subscribed to this comment thread: I just learned that Claudia Ayres has passed away. More details on the RRR alum blog and on the RRR Facebook page

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. Peace.


Anonymous said...

Wow, it's so wonderful to find this! Is it still active? I was at RRR the last two years it was open - when I got the letter about it closing I was devastated. I learned so many important lessons there about horses, wilderness and how to survive being a teenager (I was only 11 when I started there, and learning from the older campers was a major part of my experience). I'm so thankful for my time there, and whenever I smell Pennyroyal it takes me back to those hilltops. I'm so grateful to Joe, Claudia, Cim and Jared.

Anyone remember "the long and dusty road song" we all used to pester Joe to play, when he'd sing to us at night in the redwoods? I rediscovered it in late high school and think of him whenever I hear it. Tom Paxton, Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound.

Taiga - RRR 1999 and 2000